The inmates are protesting that they are either paid much less than the minimum wage for work essential for running the prisons - as well as for the for-profit prison industry - or not paid at all.
Since the for-profit prison industry puts "lockup quotas" into contracts with state governments, and those who are caught in the hairs of the criminal justice are predominantly the poor and the minorities - mass incarceration in the U.S., mostly through plea bargains, is clearly a plan to obtain people's labor for free, making them work for free in ghastly conditions not subject to judicial review.
The inmates are protesting, through a strike, conditions in prison (of life, guard brutality and dismal medical care) - because their legal remedy to seek justice from courts regarding prison conditions is cut off by:
- general discrimination tactics against pro se litigants;
- Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (requiring to first exhaust "administrative remedies", complaining to the same prison officials who violate prisoners' rights, thus facing retaliation, and the statute of limitations for exhaustion of remedies is 15 DAYS);
- the federal judicial system where judges consider everything, including not providing pain medication for cases with broken bones, a violation not reaching constitutional dimensions (I remember from my research as an intern for Prisoners Legal Services of New York, that the "no pain medication for broken bones is not a constitutional violation" decision was made by magistrate Randolph Treece, now retired, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York);
- the statute that allows judge to dismiss pro se federal civil rights lawsuits of indigent (poor) litigants, especially inmates, before the lawsuit was even served,
- and the subsection of the same statute that allows judges to cut off prisoners' right to sue if they sued several times, and their lawsuits were dismissed (by judges who do not feel, arbitrarily, that violations reached constitutional dimensions).
- loss of dignity;
- loss of medical care, or
- slave labor.